Each week, Blazers: Roses and Rain will take a look at three things going well for the Portland Trail Blazers and three things that are going poorly or need improvement. Since the last edition the Blazers lost on the road to the Warriors and Jazz, came back home to beat the Pistons, then got blown out by the Spurs. They are currently 11-12 on the season.
Rose #1: The Neil Olshey Era Is Over
Neil Olshey has been fired after a month-long investigation concluded that he violated the team’s code of conduct policy. Joe Cronin has been promoted to Interim General Manager. It is unclear whether the Blazers will look to hire a full-time replacement now or let Cronin finish out the rest of the season. The players, employees, and fans can all now move on. While a lack of stability in the front office could be a concern, a new leader in charge of the personnel decisions does bring about a little bit of buzz and hopefulness that actual changes could occur.
Rain #1: Injury Bug Hitting the Blazers
Damian Lillard will be re-evaluated in 10 days after his lower abdominal tendinopathy flared up in Monday’s loss to the Jazz. This team desperately needs a healthy Lillard but having him be able to play without the abdominal pain is equally important. Hopefully the 10 day rest period gets his injury to a more manageable position. On top of the Lillard injury, Nassir Little will also miss at least a week with a left ankle sprain. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Anfernee Simons hurt his ankle as well in the Blazers loss to the Spurs. Simons has already been ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Celtics and it is unknown how long he’ll be out for.
Rose #2: Opportunity for Others to Step Up
Injuries to key rotation players does bring the opportunity for players who might not normally get minutes to step up and show they deserve to play more. It also changes certain player’s roles that already play a lot. Can CJ McCollum facilitate more and play the way he has in games without Lillard in previous seasons? Would playing through Jusuf Nurkic more often allow this offense to get better shots? With more traditional lineups will the defense look better? The game against the Spurs definitely didn’t answer these questions but maybe the next few games will.
Rain #2: Horrid Play on the Road
This again? Maybe there will be a time when I don’t have to include the poor play in road games in this article, but it won’t be this week. The Blazers are now 1-10 on the road. One win in eleven games. While most of the competition on the road has been tough, this team has to find a way to play better away from Portland or it’s going to cost them playoff seeding or possibly not even making the playoffs. The good news is that they only play four road games in the month of December. The bad news is the next road game is against the Warriors who just waxed the Blazers last Friday.
Rose #3: Still in the Mix
Despite a feeling of things seeming really bad for the Blazers after every loss, if they can just figure some things out sooner rather than later, they’re still right there in the standings to make a run at home court in the first round of the playoffs. As of today, they sit just 1.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the 4th seed in the West. There are seven teams all bunched up in a group. Almost all of them are dealing with key injuries and inconsistent play. If any of those seven teams can go on a small winning streak, they’d likely separate a bit from the pack. There’s no reason that can’t be the Blazers with a home heavy December and one of the easiest remaining schedules the rest of the season.
Rain #3: Lack of Effort
Whether the issues are roster related, coaching, or whatever, there is no excuse for the team to come out with sluggish and lethargic performances the way they have. After the loss to the Spurs, Head Coach Chauncey Billups said the following, “My biggest concern, I think, at the moment, is I want us to compete harder, man. I want us to compete harder,” Billups said. “I want us to be competitive in every game. And I don’t feel like every night we do that. We don’t. And it concerns me. And I’ve felt that way in a lot of our wins. This is not just after a loss, me saying this.” Simply put, this can’t be the case if the team wants to start playing better and more consistently. Billups has to find a way to get his toughness and personality to translate onto the basketball court.